Monday, September 28, 2020

How To Make a Cocktail (not-really-a-book-review book review)

My wife and I have been dabbling with cocktails for a while now. Well, a short while.
Okay, it all started in 2017 when we went on our gold country trip and stayed in Columbia. We had this pair of cocktails:
which, I'm pretty sure, was the first time I'd ever had a cocktail. Maybe I'd had a pina coloda -- I don't really remember when we started making those -- but that would have been about the extent of it.

After or trip, we started trying cocktails when we would go out to places that served cocktails. Sometimes, we even looked for places that served cocktails as part of our decision process. Of course, we don't really go out a lot, so it's not like it was something that happened very often.

So we started making the occasional cocktail at home, especially pina colodas, the family favorite (because you can leave the rum out for the kids). I learned how to make margaritas. But that's where we hit a wall, I guess, because my wife bought me a book, Be Your Own Bartender, and I learned how to make a daiquiri. A real daiquiri, not those slushy monstrosities.

We tried out other things from that book, but it was too all over the place. I'm not saying it's a bad book or anything -- it definitely served a purpose -- but it only had a very limited number of drink options for any given category and it became a hassle trying to get just the various base alcohols for the different drinks. That and we discovered that my wife really just likes rum. Rum for cocktails, not on its own. On its own, I'd much rather have whiskey, which I like straight, but I'm not going to drink rum on its own.

All of which led to my wife buying for me for our anniversary this year the book at the top of the post, Smuggler's Cove, a book all about tiki cocktails, most of which are made from rum. Nearly all, actually. Did you know that cocktails originated with rum? And, kind of, with pirates. This is why pirates beat ninjas. They fucking invented cocktails! That's free information; I don't know if it's in the book or not.

However, the book is full of all kinds of history, which I will get around to reading at some point. I just haven't had a chance yet. My attention has been on the cocktail recipes themselves, over 100 of them. My personal favorite, at least so far, is the Planter's Punch. Which is not exactly accurate, because the recipe in the book is just an example of -a- planter's punch. It was just a catchall name given to a class of drink of which there were endless variations because every plantation owner had their own specific recipe. My wife has discovered that she loves Mai Tais, which, by the way, despite its association with Hawaii, was invented right here in Oakland, California. Also, by the way, the Hawaiian version, which adds pineapple juice, is vastly inferior to the original, basic Mai Tai.

I'm actually a little upset with my book. My wife got me this nice hardcover copy of it, and it's a first edition, and I am going to wear the shit out of it. Not that I think this book will necessarily become valuable, but it ought to. It's that good.

Aside from being chock full of recipes, there is also a section about how to create your own cocktails. I've been fiddling around in there quite a bit and have devised two of my own that I find quite tasty. As I continue to experiment, I'll post my personal recipes here on the blog. However, I'm not going to share recipes from the book unless I've adapted it in some significant way.

None of the cocktails I'm making at the moment are as pretty as the ones in the picture above, but they are very good. At some point, I'll start working on presentation and figure out how to make drinks as pretty as those up top.

Anyway, if you're interested in cocktail making, especially rum and/or tiki drinks, I'd give this book a strong recommendation.

Well, this became more of an actual book review than I'd intended, but I guess that's okay. I'll have some cocktail recipes posted soon.

Friday, September 25, 2020

East of Eden (a book review post)

Once upon a time, I would have assumed general knowledge about the story of Cain and Abel. About most Bible stories, actually. But, then, I grew up in the Bible Belt where I was surrounded by people, whether they were church-goers or not, who had general knowledge of Bible stories. That assumption on my part was wrong. I've learned (and learned hard) to never assume knowledge by other people. Or, even, any kind of intelligence or curiosity or desire to know things.

So let's talk about Cain and Abel for a moment because Steinbeck believed that it was one of the most, maybe the most, foundational allegories from the Bible. He felt it was so important that he used it twice in the same book. Yes, twice. I'm not sure he's wrong. The sequel I'm working on to The House on the Corner is called Brother's Keeper and uses some of the same themes.

If you don't know the story of Adam and Eve, you'll  have to go research that one on your own.

Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain, the older, was a plant man, and Abel was an animal man. God asked them to make some sacrifices to him and, of course, they offered him the stuff they were each familiar with. Cain brought god the fruits of his garden, and Abel provided a barbeque. As it turned out, god was into meat and really liked the lamb chops Abel cooked up and left the salad untouched. God later died of a heart attack because he didn't eat his greens, but that was later. At the time, he snubbed Cain's gift and this, of course, caused Cain some amount of upset.

After god was gone, Cain and Abel got into an argument over the incident. I imagine that Abel was a bit smug about it all, though the Bible doesn't say that but, knowing how brothers are with each other, it's more than possible that Abel started the argument by taunting Cain about it. "Hah, hah! God liked my offering better than yours!" That kind of thing. The argument got heated, and Cain picked up a rock and smacked his brother in the head with it, killing him. I don't remember if the rock part is actually in the Bible, but that's how it feels to me at the moment.

Some time later, god comes looking for his new buddy Abel. Probably, he wanted to know if there were anymore of those lambchops or what he would need to do to get Abel to grill him up some more of them. Not finding Abel around anywhere, he went and asked Cain where his brother was, to which Cain replied, "How should I know? Am I my brother's keeper?" Of course, god, being god, already knew what had happened and got super pissed at Cain because he wasn't going to get anymore of those chops, and he didn't want any of Cain's salad, either, because salad is for sissy gods. He cursed and banished Cain and made it a law that from that from that point forward everyone had to make offerings of lamb chops to him.

Steinbeck explores this story through the character of Adam Trask who, in the beginning of the novel, plays the part of Abel and, at the end of the novel, plays the role of god. Along the way, he marries his "Eve" and attempts to create his own Garden of Eden, which is how he refers to it, but, as we know from the story of Adam and Eve (see, you need to know this one, too), Eden cannot last.

The story is seemingly told by Steinbeck himself. "He" is in the narrative as a boy through some of the action and uses his own family and family history as a backdrop to Adam's story. I don't know how accurate any of it is, but Steinbeck frequently based characters in his stories on real people from the towns he lived in. At any rate, the use of his own family history serves to pad the novel quite a bit, which isn't a bad thing. There are some humorous moments in there.

Like this one:
Samuel Hamilton, who is, in the book, the grandfather of young John Steinbeck, is one of the central characters once Adam has moved to the Salinas Valley. His teenage children are going to a dance and one of the boys, in an attempt to make sure he has a date, asks two different girls to the dance. They both say yes. Rather than tell one of them he overbooked, he decides to take them both. The problem, though, is that the buggy he's taking his dates to the dance in only has room for two. That won't work. So the boy takes a couch that his mother loves and puts wheels on it and hooks that up behind the horse instead. Problem solved. And his father, laughing, doesn't stop him or warn his son about all of the trouble he's going to be in when his mother finds out. He's too busy laughing and decides the boy should have to deal with the consequences himself.

I'm not going to spoil any of the story for you by dropping into a philosophical discussion of personal choice. I'll just say this: Steinbeck focuses his look at Cain and Abel on the characterization of Cain and how he deals with his disappointment at not receiving favor. This is how the story has always been framed every time I've heard it my entire life. Cain sinned and deserved what god did to him. Actually, god was merciful to Cain in that he only banished him. Steinbeck does offer one very small twist to the discussion in his exploration of the word "timshel" and the contrast between what it actually means and how it has been translated in the Bible. He makes the story about personal choice. Now that I think about it, the above humor example feeds into this narrative as well.

I've never really bothered to question the Cain and Abel story as it was presented to me as a child and, then, throughout my life. Why would I have, right? Experts for thousands of years have dissected this story and presented their conclusions about it. Cain was overcome with jealousy and murdered his brother because of it. God, who could have taken Cain's life in exchange, was, instead, merciful and allowed Cain to only be banished, commanding him to "go and conquer sin" or, as Jesus later says, "Go and sin no more."

However, thinking about this story in a new way because of Steinbeck's presentation of it, now looking at the responsibility of the father in all of this, I'm going to come out now and say that it's god who is the villain in this allegory. God is a bad father. God pits one child against the other, alienating one of them in the process while showering the other with praise. Cain and Abel were children. The burden of Abel's death lies not on Cain but on god. God is the parent in the situation, and it's his responsibility to manage it, to show some sort of fairness, to treat his children equally. To make it worse, god, being all knowing, is doing all of this on purpose. He knows the pain he's causing Cain and knows what the outcome will be, yet "god" chooses to do it anyway. That's some fucked up shit, god. I'd say it's, at least, borderline child abuse. Reckless endangerment? Something...

But it gets better, since god then kicks Cain out of the house. And that is actually child abuse. It's not legal to kick your minor child out onto the street to fend for himself in the world. So, you know, god would get thrown in jail for that kind of behavior today.

What I'm getting at here is that this is definitely a book worth reading. Not surprising since it's Steinbeck.

And, just to mention it, one of the best characters in the novel is a character named Lee, an Asian servant. Lee starts out almost a caricature of the Oriental servant, something many people have called Steinbeck racist for doing. However, he begins Lee as this stereotype, really, to show us that he's not. As the story develops, Steinbeck turns Lee into probably the most well-rounded and real character in the book. He is no racial stereotype but a real human being, and I think Steinbeck wants us to see that. He wants us to see that you can't lump people into these racial categories and think that they're all the same. If you bother to try to get to know someone, bother to look past the clich├ęs and the stereotypes, you will find real people with their own desires and struggles, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams for the future. He explores all of it with Lee.

Having done a bit of reading up on Steinbeck, I'm going to go out on what is probably not much of a limb and say that Steinbeck was very against racism, to the point of his name removed from the writing credits of a film that he felt had racist undertones that his script did not contain.

I'm not going to lie and try to pass of Eden as an easy read, but it's not a difficult one. It's just a bit long and, at times, it's difficult to tell where the story is going. But, you know, I think it's going the same place that life goes. It just goes. It's sprawling. It would never get published today at the length it is. Whole sections would get cut out, and the book would be the worse for it, so I'm glad it was written when it was and that it came out the way Steinbeck wanted it to.
Go read it.